SO HIP IT HURTS
Forget the "big three." Japan's young trendsetters are opting for a funky do-it-yourself anti-uniform
To take the pulse of Japanese fashion, you only have to walk down the streets of the country's shopping meccas. Not so long ago, the uniform was head-to-toe designer chic: witness the Comme des Garcons groupies of the '80s and early '90s. But these days, the ultra-hip shoppers in Tokyo's Harajuku aren't likely to be wearing the coolly constructed designs of Japan's "big three" fashion supremos--Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. The old avant garde has given way to a new anti-uniform, a do-it-yourself mix-and-match of the funky rags offered by young design houses like 20471120 (also known by its shorter former name, Tra I Venti) and Bathing Ape.
Forget the fashion police; the only law of the land is anything goes. "I might buy a $300 pair of Tra I Venti fluffy leopard-skin pants," explains one 16-year-old student trawling the stores in Harajuku, "and then wear them with an old sweater of my mom's that I ran randomly through the sewing machine." For another shopper, fashion means "anything in bright colors by Under Cover and for my feet premium Nikes."
Of course, the self-stylists do have some popular "looks" to work from. Inspired by the Japanese jazz-pop songstress UA, "Asian hippies" achieve their look with rainbow T shirts from Bathing Ape, adorned by feather necklaces and multiple beaded bracelets. The "mods" get their suits made to order at Boston Tailor, a shop known for its selection of dead-stock fabric, as well as original patterns, from the '30s to the '70s.
The designer for punks at heart is Under Cover's Jun Takahashi, 27, whose loud colors and textures--made from simple substances like rubber and glue--feature in the street-tough clothes. Under Cover's catwalk shows could qualify as punk performances. His last fall/winter show, in fact, was held in Shinjuku's Liquid Room, the city's music hot spot, and was accompanied by the deafening sound of a punk band.
And then there are the fashion collections that are harder to categorize. Fans of Bathing Ape designer Tomoaki Nagao, 26, love his clothes for the wearability--and not least of all for the fact that they are hard to get. First you have to find the store, which has no sign out front and is deliberately nestled below ground. Moreover you have to arrive very early because the most-wanted items usually sell out by the afternoon. The brand's mascot ape, which appears everywhere from buttons to camouflage patterns, adds to the graphic appeal. Similarly, Hisashi Fukatami, 26, gives his punk-influenced Diet Butcher Slim Skin line an added quirkiness by using bold prints and logos related to that ultimate pop-culture sport of professional wrestling.
20471120's creations seem almost tame in comparison. The details are certainly quieter, but no less striking. The team of Masahiro Nakagawa and Lica Azechi, both 29, has produced surreal designs such as folding, origami-like footwear and cube-like bags that open up into shirts and vests. Shapes abound in the oddest places: cubes pop out of shoulders and pockets. Pinwheel forms flutter high above the wearer's knees.
Perhaps the one common factor among these young designers is their attention to detail. The most extreme example is Christopher Nemeth, a 37-year-old Englishman living and designing in Tokyo, who has devoted his career to creating a single unisex collection, which he tweaks--but doesn't really change--one season after the next. Nemeth experiments with basic elements such as stitching, which runs as if tracing and retracing the path of a wandering ant.
Like most of their European and American counterparts, the up-and-coming designers in Japan draw from cultural icons, past eras and their environment. But they are not in the least encumbered by the successful legacy of their big three predecessors. "Issey? Who's that?" Bathing Ape's Nagao says boldly. "Yohji, I couldn't care less about." Under Cover's Takahashi is even more to the point. "[Issey's] designs are dasai [tacky]," he says. "They're old-fashioned, and no one in our generation buys them." One look at these eye-ripping street styles and you can see what they mean. They're young; they're adventurous; they're so hip it hurts. The new garde has arrived.
PHOTO (COLOR): UNDER COVER--The label's deafening colors go well with the hair tints of these punks at heart [Two teens sitting on curb]
PHOTO (COLOR): BOSTON TAILOR--A latter-day mod wears a suit made to order from an original period pattern [Man sitting on steps]
PHOTO (COLOR): CROSS-CULTURAL--East meets West on a shopper wearing traditional sandals and jacket with modern patterns [Two women in shopping market]
PHOTO (COLOR): CHRISTOPHER NEMETH--The red stitching on the trousers seems to trace and retrace the path of an ant [Woman with random pattern stitched on trousers]
PHOTO (COLOR): MIXED AND MATCHED--Gone is the head-to-toe designer uniform; this outfit combines different styles [Young woman sitting on bench]
PHOTO (COLOR): [Tomoaki Nagao holding ape mask]
By JULIE K.L. DAM
REPORTED BY LUCAS BADTKE-BERKOW/TOKYO
Jun Takahashi, the Japanese designer behind the cult label Undercover, is as reclusive as he is recondite. In a rare interview, The Moment caught up with Takahashi after his recent Paris showroom presentation.
A few months ago, you relaunched Nowhere — your first retail experience from about 15 years ago, in collaboration with Nigo — at Dover Street Market in London. It seems that everyone is doing collaborations these days, including Rei Kawakubo with her almost simultaneous teaming with Louis Vuitton & H&M, and now Jil Sander for Uniqlo. What do you think of those?
I find their collaborations far too business-oriented. In the early ’90s, when there was no such thing as a category called collaboration in the fashion industry, I worked with Nigo just because we were very good friends and wanted to create something purely out of interest. We just enjoyed working together without thinking of our activity as business. Under the current difficult economic situation, such collaborations between the big maisons have impact. But to me, they seem to lack a pure intention to pursue something for fun or creativity. In other words, their collaborations are productive only in terms of business. If you ask me whether or not I’m interested in such kind of collaboration, my answer would have to be “no.”
Music has a strong influence on your designs. Product design as well, as we saw with the first full men’s collection you showed at Pitti Immagine, which was inspired by Dieter Rams. Can you expand on your interest in other fields of pop or traditional culture, such as art?
Yes. For example, I create my Graces [the name given to Takahashi's doll series] and take photographs of them. I also draw pictures and jog.
The Graces reflect something more personal and intimate, but now that they have appeared a few times in your work — first in the collaboration with A Magazine, then in the Undercover Tokyo shop and most recently at Pitti — how do you feel about using intimacy as a tool for the commercial purpose of selling clothes?
The Graces spontaneously come out of me, genuinely, while making clothes is something more calculated, an entire process that requires teamwork. But doing both allows me to keep a balance in my creativity. Therefore, it makes sense to me to have everything linked.
What do you find most repellent about the fashion system?
The misguided upper-class mentality, the mass media that place ultimate importance on money, the mass media that excessively seek the latest trends and all the incredibly fast changes in the industry. I want to introduce my own creations at my own pace. I’m fed up with the magazines that are effectively catalogs and that place so much emphasis on money that you cannot obtain exposure through them unless you invest a large amount of money.
Do you see yourself different from other designers, either from your generation or from the past? Could you please explain what those differences are and how they inform your designs?
I’ve never compared myself with other designers. But if I have to, one of the characteristics unique to me is that I believe that fashion is not my only means of self-expression. In addition, my perverseness probably makes me slightly different from other designers.
Fans of Bathing Ape designer Tomoaki Nagao, 26, love his clothes for the wearability--and not least of all for the fact that they are hard to get. First you have to find the store, which has no sign out front and is deliberately nestled below ground. Moreover you have to arrive very early because the most-wanted items usually sell out by the afternoon.
Discovering Westwood and McLaren's Seditionaries was "soul-shaking" for Undercover designer Jun Takahashi. He published an impossible-to-find compendium of his Seditionaries collection—and created a label in its spirit
An old rock quip has it that only a few thousand people bought The Velvet Underground's first record, but every one went out and formed a band. (It's most often attributed to Brian Eno, but as it turns out, it's apocryphal.) But you could say something similar about Seditionaries, the fashion line punk impresarios Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood created and sold out of their King's Road shop in the seventies. For aspiring punks and aspiring designers both, Seditionaries was hugely influential. Its admirers and adherents were often moved to design punk garb of their own, and few were moved more than Jun Takahashi, who absorbed the lessons of the line and used them to create his own cult label, Undercover.
Takahashi and his friend and collaborator, Hiroshi Fujiwara, also scoured Tokyo for vintage Seditionaries pieces, eventually amassing a collection impressive enough that they published it as a limited-edition book (emphasis on limited). Here, Takahashi speaks with Style.com about punk rock and punk fashion and his enduring love of Westwood and McLaren's creations, and also shares a few glimpses between the covers of the impossible-to-find Seditionaries book.
Tell me a little bit about your early experiences with punk music as a teenager and a young man in Tokyo. What does punk mean to you? Has that meaning changed over time?
I encountered punk rock in my early teens. To me, punk means a spirit unrestrained by conventional ideas, a spirit of rebelliousness, nihilism…things like that. I think it is a very humane way of thinking and living. This meaning hasn't changed at all as I get older.
Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren's line Seditionaries had a lot to do with establishing the punk look as we now know it, and I know it has had a strong influence on you. You've said in the past it was one of the collections that inspired you to begin making womenswear, and you and Hiroshi Fujiwara gathered your collection of Seditionaries pieces to make a book that's now a sought-after rarity. What spoke to you about the Seditionaries collection when you first encountered it? What did it do differently from other fashion collections?
Until I encountered the genuine Seditionaries, I had thought punk fashion was just destructive, but when I looked at the clothes of the real Seditionaries, I had a tremendous shock, because they were very elegant and sophisticated. Still, destructive and erotic elements were merged in a sophisticated way. It was soul-shaking, because these conflicting elements fused together and came into existence in an exquisite balance.
Tell me about the process of creating the book. Why did you decide to make it, and how did it come to be? How did you begin collecting the Seditionaries pieces that eventually went into the book? Are you still collecting?
Hiroshi and I had been collecting Seditionaries pieces since old times. In Tokyo there were shops carrying vintage Seditionaries items. So, as we saved up money, we purchased items there or asked collectors to give us some, and like this we collected pieces little by little over many years. We thought that our vast collections should be compiled and released in a photo book with no text, in a stoic manner, so we published it, because we think these collections were worth handing down to future generations. To my regret, most clothes which are out there in the market now and labeled Seditionaries are fake, so we [haven't] collected any recently.
Do you have favorite pieces, or pieces that are especially meaningful to you?
Some of my favorite items are anarchy shirts and parachute shirts. They are among the rare shirts in which representative items of Seditionaries unite. [But] there are many more I like.
The book is now so rare that when one of London's premier vintage-book dealers got ahold of a copy, they put up photos online to prove that it actually exists. Was it intentionally made so limited?
We didn't make the book rare intentionally. Because we published it at our own expense, it is natural that the number of copies of the book was limited.
You've had the chance to work with, or at least to be in contact with, many of the designers who inspire you: Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, Martin Margiela. Have you had a similar relationship with Westwood or, before he died, McLaren? Would you want to?
Somehow, I didn't think I wanted to collaborate with [those] two. But when a fashion show was held in Tokyo in 1990, where pieces by Vivienne Westwood were gathered together by collectors, I somehow happened to appear in that show. I was a student at that time—I was invited because I looked like Johnny Rotten, the vocalist of the Sex Pistols. Vivienne Westwood visited Japan for the show. For some reason, when she was going to take a bow at the finale, she picked up my hand and brought me down to the end of the stage. I remember greeting the audience with her. I was very delighted. Also, a photo book of Seditionaries in my possession has the signature of Malcolm McLaren in it.
It's often said that your collections are "punk." Do you think that Undercover embodies, in some way, the spirit of punk? How so? Or have journalists over the years overstated the point?
It's just fine that people say my collections are punk, because punk is indeed a basic part of myself. As I said, the "exquisite merger of two conflicting elements" that I felt from Seditionaries clothes obviously constitutes the core of the design of Undercover. But if my collection is viewed simply as punk, it is a bit regrettable.
Are there any other designers working who you think work in the punk spirit?
There are many. The designers who inspire me all have a punk spirit.
What do you think it is that attracts the fashion world to punk? It's a reference that's returned to time and again. Is it a reference you feel is rightly used?
I don't think there is right or wrong in punk fashion. Everyone can freely incorporate its essence by expressing what he or she thinks of as rebelliousness in fashion.
After several seasons off the calendar, you showed your Fall 2013 women's collection in Paris this season. Why did you choose to return to the runway now?
We Japanese are starting again, following the great earthquake two years ago. I also sustained a psychological scar due to the disaster. But from rock bottom we have to turn things around. Now is exactly this time. My return to the Paris collection is the manifestation of this. The means happened to be the runway. I always work and express my ideas along with the flow of my mind. I am full of feelings that I will give it a go again.
What was your reaction to the Met's announcement that Punk will be the theme of this year's Costume Institute exhibition? Does punk belong in a museum? Or is such an exhibition a confirmation of what many old punks are fond of saying—that punk is dead?
I didn't have a particular feeling about the announcement. I think the element of punk has a significant meaning for human beings as one of their means of expression, so I believe punk can proudly belong in a museum as a work of art. I think most people who say that punk is dead have moved into the next step while keeping a punk spirit at their base. The spirit will live on in me until I die.
Syeknom wrote:Must be crazy to get a brand into such a position that customers are so willing to go out of their way to hunt for your underground shop.
Side 2 of the record caused consternation at the time: Neu! had quite simply run out of money to finish recording the album, so side 2 is made up entirely of their previously released single "Neuschnee/Super", manipulated at various playback speeds on a record player, or mangled in a cassette recorder. Critics at the time dismissed this as a cheap gimmick and a rip-off. Whilst it was indeed an experiment born of desperation and necessity, it was entirely in keeping with Neu's pop art aesthetics, taking a 'ready-made' sound object and re-presenting it with a series of stylized manipulations, and also quite in keeping with the way Neu's music deconstructed and pared down the form of rock music. Dinger has since pointed to side 2 of this album as being a prototype of the now ubiquitous multiple 'remixes' which typically accompany any pop single release.
bela wrote:I also don't know if you can say Undercover isn't "exclusive". Maybe in the sense that you can just buy it on Mr Porter, sure, but things are still limited and super expensive right? Just checking Oki-Ni rrp on the knits is £600, there's a pair of socks for £50 and this set of badges has been generously reduced to only £109
Q&A: JUN TAKAHASHI
The reclusive genius behind cult avant-punk label Undercover speaks out
There are several iterations of punk for AW13, from Donatella Versace’s hi-octane “Vunk” to Fendi’s fur mohawks, but Jun Takahashi of Undercover distilled it with an outsider essence. Returning to the Paris catwalks after a two-year absence, he staged his show in the intimate atmosphere of the Sorbonne, sending out models in bunny masks, pumps and ponytails to a soundtrack of Cat Power and Nirvana. Garments were reconstructed with an astonishing level of craftsmanship and detail: a dress made out of men’s shirt-collars, an evening jacket formed from layers of vintage lingerie. And if the collection displayed a newfound love of the artisanal, his macabre sense of humour was there in skeletal hands grasping waistlines and motifs of dissected organs (eyes, lips, hearts) on trenchcoats and leather biker-jackets.
The overall effect was akin to punk performance theatre: sensual and surreal, with a nod to Vivienne Westwood. Takahashi has always worn his heart on his sleeve – after graduating from Tokyo’s prestigious Bunka Fashion College in 1991 and launching the pioneering shop NOWHERE with A Bathing Ape’s Nigo in 1993, he presented his first Undercover show in 1994, revealing the darkly romantic vision that has made him a luminous beacon among the new wave of Japanese designers. After successful recent collaborations with both Uniqlo and Nike, it would seem he now feels free once again to indulge his twisted desires with Undercover. “You have to keep moving forward. That can be said for all things,” he says. Spoken like a true punk.
After two years away from the Paris catwalks, why was now the right time to show a runway collection?
After the earthquake disaster, we Japanese were spiritually in the worst state. It’s been two years since then and everyone is hoping to improve the present situation. I am one of them. I chose to have a runway show in Paris in order to restore myself. I thought it would work because going back to the runway was one of the things I had been hoping to do.
Talking of the scar that Japan’s earthquake left on you, did it creatively affect your AW13 collection?
I was craving for creation, and that resulted in those one-off dresses. Two years ago, mentally and financially I wasn’t able to create such things. Those one-off pieces are my original works and made intuitively by myself. I am the only one who could make them. They are sacred works to me. I guess I like things where you can feel human warmth.
Why did you call the show ‘Anatomicouture’? Was your intention to expose the inner bones of the garments?
It is a mentality of exposing the inner self, corresponding to my desire to reveal my creation and what’s going on in my head.Despite the skeleton and organ motifs, the collection is beautiful and seductive – does this come back to your interest in the contrast between ugly and beautiful? Ugliness and beauty co-exist in human mentality. I always want to express those emotions.
The AW13 show had the feel of punk performance art – why did you stage it like theatre?
Because the theme of this collection is related to human emotions, I thought my theme could be conveyed much better with such staging effects that would move people’s hearts. That’s why I used songs by Cat Power and James Blake. All the songs are great and meaning-ful and helped me convey what I wanted to express through the lyrics of songs too.
When did your love of fashion start, and how did that lead to Undercover?
When I was little I loved drawing and had a twisted personality. I was so into punk during my high school years. My interest in fashion arose when I was around 15 years old and I was hoping to become a designer. At 18, I entered Bunka Fashion College. I was questioning about learning ‘design’ from teachers who were much older than me. So I told myself that I would learn only techniques in the school, nothing else.Undercover was considered part of a new wave of Japanese designers. How did your approach differ from the likes of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto? I am not sure if Undercover is part of a new wave and I don’t really care. But Rei influenced me a lot on things like breaking stereotypes.
You and your friend Hiroshi Fujiwara collected vintage Seditionaries pieces and published a book about them, and you even appeared in a show of Vivienne Westwood’s designs in Tokyo in 1990. Can you describe the impact punk made on you and explain why it still resonates today?
To me, punk means a spirit that questions and abolishes conventional ideas. That is my fundamental principle. You can apply the principle to fashion design. It depends on each season, but I instil punk interpretation into my designs in many ways – for example, by fusing two contradicting elements or applying techniques that are generally considered taboo.
You recently designed lines for Uniqlo and Nike – how did you enjoy those two experiences? Did they feed back into your work with Undercover?
The Uniqlo and Nike collaborations are totally different types of designs from that of Undercover. Therefore the collaborations didn’t really affect my work with Undercover. But for my career as a designer, both collaborations became good experiences. Working with Uniqlo gave me the opportunity to learn about the creation of mass products and newly standard items that are totally different from designing avant-garde pieces. As for the collaboration with Nike, I am very satisfied both as a designer and as a runner with the fact that I have been able to create products which integrate necessary functions for running with fashion-design aesthetics, which had often perhaps been missing in the existing sportswear.
You’ve talked in the past of the difficulties with keeping up with the six-month cycle of fashion shows, and skipped showing in Paris for a couple of seasons – how are you currently finding working within the fashion calendar?
Right now, I’ve come to the conclusion that the six-month cycle is appropriate. Themes of each Undercover collection vary by season. If we could spend more than six months on a collection, and if we continue to work with the same theme for a year, it would be difficult to keep up the tension towards the theme and I am afraid that the freshness would be lost.
AW13 got a great response. Will we be seeing you back on the runway next season?
I could strongly feel that a lot of people were waiting for Undercover and I was very thankful about it. I will be back on the runway next season.Next year will mark the 20th since you began showing as Undercover.
How do you feel you’ve evolved in that time?
I went through many phases and experienced many things. There was a time we faced various troubles, or we jumped into things just by force of circumstances. But nothing was wasted. I am responsible for all success and failure of Undercover. I will go forward without being ashamed of the paths I’ve chosen.
bela wrote:I don't know if I 100% buy the "uniqlo went +j" theory because I think uniqlo was already pretty +j. Though my memories of +j are fading... fading away...
starfox64 wrote:bela wrote:I don't know if I 100% buy the "uniqlo went +j" theory because I think uniqlo was already pretty +j. Though my memories of +j are fading... fading away...
i'm not saying that they copied every item but some of the coats and cardigans they put out last winter bore a strong resemblance to the +j stuff.